Statement on NUS investigation from GSU Officers

Aatika and Zoë have released the following statement alongside other SUs about the National Union of Students' investigation into anti-Semitism.

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Statment from Aatika Ayoub and Zoë Campbell, GSU Officers 2021/22

As elected Students’ Union representatives and delegates to the National Union of Students (NUS) Annual Conference, we are extremely concerned by the way the public discussion about the NUS and its President-elect, Shaima Dallali, has proceeded in recent weeks and its potential impact on the independence of national student representation.

What is NUS?
NUS the National Union of Students, a national representative body for students’ unions, to represent students across SUs. It has around 600 member SUs around the UK, in higher education (mostly universities) and further education (sixth forms and colleges). NUS hosts National and Liberation Conferences every year where delegates elected from each member SU meet to network, discuss policy, and vote for officers to lead NUS for the next two years. 

What’s been happening?
At NUS National Conference, student representatives voted for a new NUS officer team, many of whom ran on anti-racist principles, including support for the Palestinian people’s struggle for their human rights. Shaima Dallali was elected NUS President for 2022-2024 with an overwhelming majority. Media coverage accused Shaima of being antisemitic, citing a tweet from ten years ago in which she references the 628AD Battle of Khaybar, despite her having publicly apologised for the tweet before the election took place.

Since then, multiple government ministers have intervened, threatening to have the NUS investigated under the Charity Commission (though NUS UK is not a charity and therefore is not regulated by the Charity Commission), and to withdraw funding (though they do not fund NUS UK). They also put pressure on NUS via news media to remove Shaima from her elected position. As a consequence, NUS announced an independent investigation into allegations of institutional antisemitism, and into the allegations made against Shaima. NUS consulted with UJS (the Union of Jewish Students) to decide who would lead the investigation but did not respond to attempts to engage from other groups with concerns about the investigation’s terms. The government’s Department for Education has since announced that they will suspend formal engagement with NUS.

Why does this matter?
It is deeply concerning that our government has been able to put open pressure on the NUS, an organisation which is supposed to be independent, which exists to represent its members. The government is undermining its own democratic procedures by demanding the removal of an elected representative. 

This is concerning, but not surprising. Attacks by the government on student organising and students, whether they be anti-racist organisers, LGBT+ campaigners or students campaigning for the climate, have accelerated in recent years with the Freedom of Speech (Higher Education) Bill the latest in a long line of policies making students’ lives - and ironically, their ability to speak and organise freely - much more difficult. We fear that the way the government is acting towards the NUS will make students afraid to exercise their right to campaign on campus and beyond.

The media’s reporting on these issues has resulted in this becoming a public trial by mass media. This has exposed Shaima and other students of colour to unacceptable harassment and risks prejudicing the findings of the ongoing investigation.

An independent NUS?
By pressing for particular consequences before the investigation has even taken place, the government and media are using their power to politically pressure the NUS to abandon its procedures and its commitment to its members. If the NUS undermines its own democratic legitimacy under pressure to appease the government and other external groups, we as students should ask serious questions about whose interests the NUS really has at heart.

While we can expect nothing less from a government which has tried to undermine and attack students and student organising for years, the NUS itself must not bow to this political pressure and remember that its foremost commitment is to its membership and to ensuring it remains a strong, independent, national voice for students.